Who is the 12th man tonight?

The biggest game in history of Argentinian club football will be played in a few hours in Madrid. But who will take the role as the 12th man? Florentino Perez? Gianni Infantino? Or the well behaved football tourists taking selfies? By Pål Ødegård The concept of ‘the 12th player’ is known to even the most casual football fan. That extra team player who doesn’t even need to be on the pitch, let alone kick a ball, to give one team an advantage over the other. According to Wikipedia, its first mention came from a magazine published by the University of Minnesota in 1900, where you could read about ‘the mysterious influence of a 12th man on the team, the rooster’. The same Wikipedia entry goes on to mention subsequent references to this ‘extra player’. Many of them quite amusing even if they all originate from the American version of ‘football’. The first use of the term is probably older, as it is relevant to any sport where a team normally fields eleven players, like association football and cricket. Although its meaning can range from a substitute, a coach, hell, even a cheerleader or a seemingly biased referee, the most common meaning refers to the loyal and vocal supporter who pushes the other eleven into the decisive push when they would otherwise fall short. Or rather, a big group of supporters. This sort of unconditional loyalty and devotedness have made several prominent football clubs like Bayern Munich, Fenerbahçe, Flamengo, Rangers and Ferencvaros, to name a few, to retire shirt number 12. A club like Stockport County even have their fans symbolically listed as their number 12 in the squad. In many of these clubs, the ‘12th player’ is the most radical ones – the ultras. And arguably the most famous is Boca Juniors’ barras bravas ‘La Doce’, or simply ‘Twelve’ in Spanish. It’s them that fill the iconic La Bombonera stadium with the captivating cacophony in blue and yellow we saw in the first leg of this final. A...

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